Tuesday, September 13, 2016


At bedtime last night, the temperature inside the cottage was 70˚F. and doubtless several degrees less than that outside. Even so, I decided to leave the whole-house fan going—pulling cool air in through every open screen.

When I got up at 5:00 a.m., the outside temperature was a chilly 56˚F…exactly the same as the temperature inside the cottage!

Nope. That's not a complaint!

Fact is, I feel great—energized, rarin' to go. I've already fixed breakfast for Myladylove and myself, washed the dishes, taken a short walk along the river and made a few photos, written next week's column which is due tomorrow, and driven the few miles to my local Home Depot where I spent nearly an hour picking out GFCI plugs, looking at mirrors and vanity lights, and trying to sort through the options for a ventilation system I want to put together and install at this stage of my remodeling job.

That's more stuff accomplished already than I've sometimes managed for an entire day when temperatures climb toward the 100˚F mark!

Life is is not a beach…it's frost on your pumpkin. I'm cranked when it's cool!

Friday, September 9, 2016


Early morning…a great blue heron takes a drink from the rain-refurbished river.

It rained last night. A long, soaking drizzle which began about 9:00 p.m. and continued until an hour or so before dawn. The passing storm cooled things off considerably, invigorating the air, while the steady drip and patter coming through the open screen provided great ambient noise for sleeping. Today, the landscape looks fresh-scrubbed and the river seems livelier—murky rather than muddy, up by maybe a couple of inches.

For the past few days I've been working on the final phase of our bathroom remodel. This necessitated removing drywall off two walls, rerouting various electrical lines and fixtures, plus making several temporary plumbing adjustments—even though a neighbor and I plan to convert the cottage's entire plumbing system to PEX in a couple of weeks. 

Neither the bathroom or laundry area, the two rooms in which I was working, offer much ventilation. With all the drywall dust being created, fans were not an option. So in a "dead air" room of a non-air-conditioned house, outside temperatures of 90˚F and higher assure sauna-like working conditions inside. Hot, stuffy, tough on breathing. Sort of like working inside a nailed-shut coffin. 

I drank water by the gallon, sweated it out as fast as it went in, and had the quickly discharging energy capacity of an old iPhone battery that needed replacing years earlier. Not fun.

Occasionally I needed a break from these sessions of necessary abuse—when the heat, exhaustion, lack of oxygen, dust inhaled into my lungs, and near-blindness caused by the steady bath of salty sweat streaming into my eyes became unbearable. So I adjourned to the side yard where I'd set up my sawhorses and work tables, for an alternate project constructing a floor-to-ceiling cabinet for the bathroom. 

Yes, the oxygen supply outdoors was more plentiful. And I am indeed smart enough to have placed my work site in the shade under several towering sycamores. But 92˚F in the shade is still 92˚F…an oven is still an oven! And the once-per-hour lethargic stirring of the air—not anywhere close to being sufficient to call a breeze—brought little in the way of relief. 

But I persevered, prevailed, and survived. I think. And yesterday evening, amid much shoving, cajoling—and when that failed, judiciously applied application of a few vicious whacks with a rubber mallet—Myladylove and I managed to set this recalcitrant cabinet in place.

Now, if only it stays cool for awhile…

Saturday, September 3, 2016


Here's something you don't see every day…a black groundhog! I've only ever seen one other black-furred woodchuck—and that occasion, several years ago, afforded merely a fleeting, drive-by glimpse at some distance.

Like spontaneous magic, this amazing individual simply appeared in my yard the other morning, pausing no more than ten feet beyond the window! I was truly flabbergasted!

The expected coat coloration for groundhogs is a basic, run-of-the-mill brown. Black-furred wild critters are few and far between here in Ohio. A few black squirrels in small colonies scattered throughout the state—though none anywhere near my southwestern bailiwick. And in Ohio's Appalachian foothill regions—miles away from these pastoral precincts—you might spot one of the handful of black bears who call the Buckeye State home.

Otherwise, the only black mammals you'll see are wandering cats and dogs. My visitor was a genetic anomaly—an atypical, dressed-in-sable, melanistic-phase whistle-pig!

Melanism is an overdevelopment of the dark-colored pigment—melanin—in fur, skin, feathers, or scales. It's the opposite of albinism, which is a lack of color pigment, and can occur in any animal, including birds and reptiles. Those classy-looking black squirrels are really melanistic-phase gray squirrels—a fairly common occurrence. 

Over the years I've seen any number of melanistic-phase animals, including various hawks, whitetail deer, raccoons, and foxes. But when it comes to groundhogs, I'm told melanism is extremely rare. 

I'm fortunate such a unique creature came my way—and glad I can share this singular treat.

Friday, August 19, 2016


While recently poking about a local prairie patch, thinking to make a few photos of butterflies and blacked-eyed Susans, I chanced upon a humble bumble bee working a pink clump of fragrant milkweed. Deciding it might make a good shot, I zoomed in, focused and—just getting started—clicked off a single image. 

Huh? Something fast and shadowy swooped through the viewfinder. The bee suddenly disappeared. 

I lowered the camera and began looking around…and there on a nearby stem was the answer: the breakfasting bumble bee had become breakfast for a marauding robber fly. 

Talk about a good morning gone bad! 

Robber flies are the insect equivalent of saber-tooth tigers. Fast-flying aerial predators with sharp eyesight and a proboscis designed for stabbing, through which they inject a powerful neurotoxic venom along with digestive juices to liquify their victim's innards—which the robber fly then sucks up like a sort of smoothie. 

Amazing creatures, really. Though truly bad news if you're a bee. The old folks sometimes called them a "bee panther." Which is pretty apt…and puts me in mind of that old Ogden Nash ditty: "When called by a panther, don't anther." 


Friday, August 12, 2016


Here in southwestern-Ohio, the high temp again exceeded 90˚F yesterday, as it did the day before and the day before that, ad infinitum. Global warming? Cosmic payback for building one too many strip malls or freeways? 

I dunno. Maybe it's always been that hot between April and October. My memory banks are just too over-cooked to trust. Remembering an occasional cooler stretch during July and August could be a mere fantasy on my part, an illusion based on wishful thinking.

I won't even mention the muggy, smothering humidity! Let's just say those fancy new high-tech moisture-wicking fabrics have met their match!

Nope. The only meaningful information—the only answer we wring-us-out-like-a-washrag suffers care about—is this: Is summer is almost over?

YUP! I have been to the field and witnessed with my own sweat-stung eyes. THE IRONWEED IS BLOOMING! And anyone who knows anything about the seasonal passage can tell you—when the ironweed comes into bloom, summer's days are numbered. 

Ironweed doesn't lie and it's never wrong. The clock is ticking. The countdown has begun. Here in Buckeyeland the ironweed is blooming!



Monday, August 8, 2016


Last Friday, in spite of having that very morning posted a heartfelt whine about how uncomfortable I'd been and how much I disliked the recent heatwave, I decided to take a ramble and make a few photos.

No joke! Middle of the day, sun a'blazing, temperature pushing ninety, not a cloud in the sky or a breath of breeze stirring…and I set off to visit a nearby prairie. A stifling, wide open field of grass and weeds and waist-high wildflowers, where, on a bright August day, the merciless sun beats down on you like a sledgehammer!

Yup, it sounded like a masochistic whim even to me!

I did it anyway—no doubt a telling factor in regards to my already questionable sanity. What's more, I had a pretty good time, in a sweat-drenched, near-smothered, shake-and-bake sort of way. And I'll share some of the photos during the next week or so, starting with this pearl crescent butterfly atop what I think is a really scraggly ox-eye bloom.

Moreover, in retrospect I suppose there was some sort of lesson to be learned from my outing…though that might simply be a delusion resulting from early-stage heatstroke.


Friday, August 5, 2016


I'm not a fan of hot weather. Daytime highs in the 70-75˚F range are fine—but anything above 80˚F is beyond my comfort level. And it doesn't matter whether it's a "dry" heat or accompanied by a humidity level one notch shy of rain. 

Hot is hot, and I flat don't like it!

The past couple of weeks have been a sweltering, searing ordeal. Typical for southwestern-Ohio this time of year. The dreaded Dog Days. And to us boreal-natured types, pure torture. 

Day after day, unrelenting highs of 90˚F, give or take a degree. Soaring humidity. No breeze. Like being locked in a perpetual sauna. 

My energy and enthusiasm have been completely zapped. Work on various projects has suffered. This means I not only feel miserable, but guilty about not getting things done as quickly as I'd planned.

Summer has always been my least favorite of the four seasons. Though I'll admit I'm pretty good during the first half—until the heat cranks up and begins taking its toll. While there's admittedly plenty of outdoorsy stuff to enjoy, lots to do and see, plus all that tasty fresh produce straight from the garden…the overall discomfort of the unrelenting oven-like weather—muggy, searing, to the point where I feel like a pork shoulder roasting over a charcoal grill—cancels out most of the pleasure. 

Guess I'd rather shiver than sweat!